New Zealand native Julia Ratcliffe ’16 excels in the hammer throw and the weight throw, two little-known track and field events.
New Zealand native Julia Ratcliffe ’16 excels in the hammer throw and the weight throw, two little-known track and field events.

In her first year competing with the track and field team, Julia Ratcliffe ’16 has broken Ivy League records four times. Ratcliffe excels in two little-known events, the hammer throw and the weight throw, both of which involve throwing a metal ball by a ­handle.

In the hammer throw — which is the outdoor version of the weight throw — she set an Ivy record March 22 and has since broken it twice. Her record now stands at 225 feet, 9 inches, just shy of the cutoff for the World ­University Games in Russia this July, in which she hopes to compete.

Her toss of 64 feet, 3 inches in the weight throw Dec. 9 — her first time competing in the event — broke the Ivy record set in 2011 by Thanithia Billings ’11, who called the freshman after the meet. After offering congratulations, Billings told her, “It was a little bit rude that you had to do it on the first competition of your career!” Ratcliffe recalled.

Ratcliffe isn’t the only one on the women’s track team to break records this season. The 800-meter relay team of Kacie O’Neil ’14, Greta Feldman ’13, Cecilia Barowski ’15, and Alexis Mikaelian ’13 set an Ivy record at the Penn Relays April 27. Imani Oliver ’14 also had a memorable season, placing first in the triple jump at Heptagonals May 4. Tory Worthen ’13 won her eighth career pole vault title at the same meet.

Ratcliffe tried the weight throw for the first time during track’s winter indoor season after years of competing in the hammer throw. She was introduced to the sport by her father, a track coach, while growing up in Hamilton, New Zealand. She placed fourth in the hammer throw at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

“I didn’t really like it all that much at the start,” Ratcliffe said of the day her father brought a hammer home. He insisted she give it a try and she grew to enjoy it, despite the fact that she loved playing team sports such as field hockey.

The hammer throw is 8.8 pounds; the weight throw is 20 pounds. It takes both strength and an enormous amount of control to hurl the weight. The thrower builds momentum by spinning around with arms extended and clasping the handle before releasing the weight. The more experienced a thrower is, the more full turns she can safely complete. Ratcliffe does four, on par with the top throwers.

Both events are in their infancy — the women’s hammer throw has been an Olympic event only since 2000. Ratcliffe is excited to be setting records in “a baby sport,” she said. “It’s kind of cool because you get to spread the word about it.”